The National Business League

Founded by Dr. Booker T. Washington – August 23, 1900


Miriam Benjamin

Miriam Benjamin

Gong and signal chair

Miriam Benjamin was an educator and public servant who obtained a patent for a “Gong and Signal Chair for Hotels” in 1888. Her invention was designed to allow patrons to call for assistance and remain seated, reducing the need for waiters and attendants. This was a precursor to a system used by the U.S. House of Representatives and, in more modern times, by flight attendants.

Born in South Carolina on the eve of the American Civil War, Benjamin attended secondary school in Boston, Massachusetts. Her career as a teacher took her first to Florida, and then to Washington, D.C., where she joined a thriving community of middle-class Black professionals in the nation’s capital. After passing her civil servant’s examination and working as a government clerk, she applied for her patent and lobbied for its use in the U.S. House of Representatives. Her patent model was one of a number sent by the Patent Office for display in the “Negro Building” at the 1895 Cotton States and International Exposition, a fair held with the intent of promoting contributions to society and technology made by the southern states.

In addition to being an inventor, Benjamin also practiced as a patent attorney. Although there is no record of Benjamin receiving a formal legal education, she likely learned through informal means and through her own experience as a patent applicant. She is listed as the patent attorney on both of her brothers’ patent applications: Edgar P. Benjamin’s bicycle clip in 1892 and Lyle Wilson Benjamin’s improvement on broom moisteners and bridles in 1893. She later received a second patent for a “sole of footwear” in 1917. As a Black woman, Benjamin was a trailblazer in both invention and patent law.